McMichael Canadian Art Collection Announces New Chief Curator

By May 24, 2018News

The McMichael Canadian Art Collection has named Toronto, ON-based critic and curator Sarah Milroy as its new Chief Curator. “I have been working for some years now with this problem of how to make Canadian art history relevant and fresh for contemporary audiences,” explained the recently appointed Milroy.

Milroy is well established in the Canadian art world for her editorial contributions. From 1984 to 1996, she worked at Canadian Art, where during her tenure she held the positions of editor and publisher and between 2001 to 2010 she worked as a staff critic for the Globe and Mail. She is also currently a member of the Editorial Advisory of the Inuit Art Quarterly, Board Member of the Canadian Art Foundation and Board Member of the Art Canada Institute. In recent years, however, Milroy has made a concerted turn to curatorial projects. In 2014, she co-curated From the Forest to the Sea: Emily Carr in British Columbia for the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London with then Sackler Director, Ian Dejardin who is now the Executive Director of the McMichael Canadian Art Collection and a frequent collaborator. The show travelled to the Art Gallery of Ontario in 2015. Dejardin and Milroy have also worked together on solo exhibitions for Modernist painters Vanessa Bell (2016) and David Milne (2018), both also for the Dulwich Picture Gallery. David Milne: Modern Painting is set to make it’s Canadian debut on June 16th at the Vancouver Art Gallery after which time it will travel to the McMichael Canadian Art Collection. Although Milroy won’t officially take up her new role until this coming fall she will be actively working with the gallery to prepare for the Milne exhibition which opens in September 2018.

Speaking on Milroy’s appointment, Dejardin stated, “[Milroy’s] dedication to the cause of Canadian art and artists, her unstoppable stamina, her intellectual rigor and her clear vision make her the perfect candidate for this demanding role.” In addition to her expertise on Canadian art broadly, Milroy also brings a studied understanding of contemporary and historical Inuit art to her new role. “I first travelled to the Canadian North in 1991, when I was the guest of Isuma Productions as they went out on the land in August, a few hours boat ride from Igloolik, to shoot their short documentary Saputi (Fish Traps).That experience was totally transformative for me, but I was very aware that I was being exposed to a way of life and thinking that was virtually unknown to most people in the south. For me, it’s wonderful to see how far we’ve come in terms pf awareness, that we’re going to be celebrating Isuma and Inuit art at the Venice Biennale next summer, placing them in an undisputed leadership role culturally, in a way that would have been unimaginable then.”

LEFT Jessie Oonark (1906 – 1985 Qamani’tuaq), Untitled (Joyful Man) (detail) (c. 1967) felt-tip pen 27.9 x 45.7 cm RIGHT Jessie Oonark (1906-1985) Untitled (1972) wool stroud, felt, embroidery floss and thread, 203.2 x 152.4 cm COURTESY MCMICHAEL CANADIAN ART COLLECTION

More recently, Milroy contributed a cover story on Jessie Oonark OC, RCA (1906-1985) for the Inuit Art Quarterly’s 30th Anniversary issue, which is shortlisted for Best Editorial Package at the upcoming National Magazine Awards. She has also written on Inuit artists Annie Pootoogook (1969-2016), Tim Pitsiulak (1967-2016), Jutai Toonoo (1959-2015) among others. When asked about the role of Inuit art to the McMichael she responded, “the Inuit holdings of the McMichael are spectacularly deep. McMichael is an institution that was engaged with Inuit art and clearly understood its significance very early on. I think particularly of the work of Jean Blodgett, who during her time at McMichael curated exhibitions like Strange Scenes: Early Cape Dorset Drawings (1993). Her research is still provoking us to thing about the new art that is being made in that tradition, such as the work of Shuvinai Ashoona, RCA. I want to tease out those histories and lineages and with the depth of our collection and our ongoing strong relationship with the North, we are well positioned to do that.”

Located in Kleinburg, ON, the McMichael Canadian Art Collection is the foremost institution for showcasing the works of the Group of Seven. The McMichael also houses a substantial collection of First Nations, Métis and Inuit art. Notably, the gallery holds in trust the archive of the community of Kinnagait (Cape Dorset), NU, totalling more than 100,000 artworks. In 2018 the gallery presented the exhibition Annie Pootoogook: Cutting Ice (Sept 2017 – Feb 2018), curated by Dr. Nancy Campbell. Milroy, who is set to begin in September 2018, succeeds former Chief Curator, Dr. Sarah Stanners who formally announced her departure on March 4, 2018.

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